After star Atlanta running back Justin Taylor was safely signed by another SEC school on Wednesday, he was ready to speak more candidly about his recruitment by national champion Alabama.
A 5-foot-10, 208-pounder from North Atlanta High School, Taylor signed scholarship papers with Kentucky rather than to wait to sign with Alabama in January 2013, a promise made by coach Nick Saban two weeks ago.
Taylor committed to the Crimson Tide around a year ago, but was informed by Nick Saban in January that he couldn’t sign this year. Saban said it was because of Taylor’s knee injury that cut short his senior season, asking him to enroll next January in a practice known as grayshirting. Speculation became rampant in the college recruiting world that instead it was a reason to oversign at Alabama and then manage the roster to keep as many recruits as possible within the rules.
“I knew I wasn’t going to Alabama when I met with Coach Saban at my high school a couple of weeks ago,” Taylor said. “When Coach Saban came down, I just had this feeling in my heart. I prayed about it and God told me … and I know this sounds kind of crazy … but God told me that Alabama was not the place for me.”
Taylor ended up picking Kentucky instead of Ole Miss after a whirlwind courtship within the last few days. North Atlanta coach Stanley Pritchett, who is also Taylor’s guardian and a former SEC and NFL running back, was in favor of signing on Wednesday rather than waiting on Alabama’s promises for next year.
“We trusted the coaches at Kentucky,” Pritchett said. “We felt comfortable with them, and they promised to take care of Justin. I think everything turned out well, ultimately. I wanted him to go to college right now because when you’re the first person in your family to graduate from high school, you don’t need to be sitting out. You never know what might happen in December or next year at Alabama.
“I wanted Justin to go ahead and get started in college, and I’ve always told him that. But I was going to support him with whatever decision he wanted to make.”
After winning the BCS championship earlier this month, Alabama finished Wednesday with the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class, according to Rivals. The Crimson Tide signed 26 players, including eight from the state of Georgia. Last February, Taylor was the seventh player to commit for Alabama’s 2012 class. From that day for most of 11 months, Taylor wore an Alabama hat virtually everywhere he went.
“If you look back on it, you see that it was a numbers game [with scholarships], that Alabama really wanted to sit out because of the numbers,” Pritchett said. “It kind of makes you mad, but you also feel good that he didn’t go there. Because if he had gone to Alabama, he would’ve probably just have been another number.”
On Wednesday, Pritchett and Taylor called Alabama assistant Chris Rumph to inform him on the decision to sign with an SEC rival. “[Rumph] asked what Justin was going to do because they wanted to go after some other people,” said Pritchett. “[Rumph] said go ahead and do what you’ve got to do.”
On Wednesday night, Taylor was happy to be finished with a troubling few weeks, and looked forward to playing against his former team, Alabama. “The way they talked to me, they respected me … but as far as pulling the scholarship, I think they did me wrong. I was the No. 7 to commit, that’s all I’ve got to say. I was committed to them for a year. They could’ve handled it better.”
– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog
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